Archive for November, 2008

A breath of fresh air

Don and I had coffee at the Emporium on Tuesday.  It’s something we do every couple of weeks.  A medium dark roast and half a bearclaw is the norm along with a lot of conversation.  We get down there early and I usually get home before Sweetie is fully prepared to attack the day.

Our subject matter includes the state of the economy, the struggles of the town’s various non-profits, a description of what’s happening to our aging bodies and a handful of pretty good jokes.  And there’s always time to admire the occasional female biker arriving for sustenance.

I got back into my truck around 8:45 and began the twenty minute drive up the hill.  NPR was broadcasting one of Obama’s press conferences during which he announced some new cabinet members.  I listened and found myself comparing the President-Elect with similar events hosted by the current resident of the Oval Office.

Yes, I’m biased.  I thought about the Bush press conferences I had listened to driving up and down the Dennison Grade over the last eight years.  I thought “I’m lucky I didn’t have a stroke yelling at the radio as though he could actually hear me.”  I won’t trouble you with what I yelled.  You already know.

This time I listened as Obama told us about the challenges ahead and that they wouldn’t be easy.  I heard him say in measured tones that it would probably get worse before it got better.  I heard him say that he would listen to those he was surrounding himself with.  I actually believed him.  By the time I got home I was smiling.

A day later I was watching CNN.  Yes, I’m back watching the news.  I was on a hunger strike for about ten days protesting that damn stock market ticker that stared menacingly at me from the lower right corner of every news program.  But I’m over that, sort of.

Obama was hosting another press conference.  Didn’t see the beginning of it, the prepared remarks, but I did hear the questions posed by the gathered news minions.  CNN’s Chuck Henry, a guy who makes his living aggravating others, got up and said “Mr. Obama, you’ve been appointing a lot of folks who are old time Washington pols.  You promised us during the campaign that you were going to bring change to Washington.  How do you reconcile your promise with what you are doing?”

I flashed back to Bush.  In a nanosecond I could see his eyes narrow, his mouth tighten, and that irritating smirk appear on his face.  Then I could hear him say something sarcastic, put the questioner in his place, and avoid a direct answer to a simple question.  Next.

I tightened up waiting for Obama to respond.  I listened and smiled.  Again.

Maybe we’re approaching winter, but I think it’s spring.

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I love her

I’ve talked about “Sweetie” in a whole lot of my blogs.  But maybe you haven’t met her.  So let me introduce her.

I met Ila about fifty years ago when we were both too dumb to know we were dumb.  It took us only about two years to figure out that we’d be better off married than to continue wandering through the desert looking for Mr. or Ms. Right.  Tomorrow we will be married forty-eight years.

My folks, bless their hearts, celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary back in the days when whale oil lit our lamps and the Internet was a string attached to two tin cans.  I can remember thinking “Twenty-five years.  Boy are they old.”  Now I’m them by nearly a factor of two.

Do you ever look at your significant other and try to think of him or her as a distinct individual, totally separate from yourself?  I do that once in a while and fail miserably.  Yes I know, some of you are saying “What a doofus, what a whatever.  That poor girl needs a life of her own.  She’s her own person.”  Well here’s what I say to you…phfffffft.

I can’t imagine what life would be like without Ila.  In fact, I can’t remember much B.I.  She looks like she did when I first met her.  Really cute.  Beautiful blue eyes.  Great shaped lips.  A body that I love to nestle up to.  You ought to see her in a bath towel.  Me?  I don’t look so good anymore but she’s a forgiving girl.

I can sense how she’s feeling even if we’re at opposite ends of the house.  Sure, maybe it’s my imagination or maybe it’s the lingering emotion that developed the last time we sat together.  Either way, it heightens the senses.

Do we argue?  You bet.  Usually it’s something I said or how I said it.  Or what I didn’t hear her say even though I was looking straight at her.  I’ve tried to overcome that character flaw but I’m stuck at a C-.  Sometimes hurt feelings last for the better part of a day.  Sometimes not.  It’s an awful time for both of us.  But it passes and we smile, kiss and say how much we love each other.

We go to the movies a lot.  And we hold hands.  You’d think that holding someone’s hand for almost two hours would get a little old.  It doesn’t.  But she has a way of stroking my hand that let’s me know everything is OK.

We sit next to each other on the couch and watch TV.  I sit in the corner near the comfy armrest.  She sits in the middle of the couch, on the crack between the cushions.  I’d move to the other end to get away from the crack.  She doesn’t.  And we hold hands.

I love to come home on Monday afternoon after driving the bus.  I do like driving the old folks but by the time I get home I’m tired and I’m hungry.  She meets me at the door, smiles broadly and says “Hi Sweetheart, how was it?”  I sometimes feel like Ralph Kramden with my own Trixie.

If we don’t always know where the other is we get edgy.  Probably because we’re insecure.  So what.

She doesn’t seem to have to work at doing things for me.  It’s part of her nature.  I have to think about it, get up the energy, not procrastinate and then do it.

If I ask for help, like when I can’t find my wallet, she leaps to the chase.  With me it’s more of a slow waddle.

I love to make dinner, bake bread and prepare new things.  She never says “That’s awful” unless I say it first.  Then she coos “Don’t worry about it.  We can eat eggs.”

When I get upset, she always knows what to say, how to hug me and how to make it all better.

Most of all, we love each other.

What more could I ask after forty-eight years.

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The market makes me crazy

Back in the 70’s the market crashed…again.  Like it does every time I get comfortable.  And then my broker says “Ya know, we’ve been through this before.  Just hang in there and things will right themselves.  After all, look at this chart.  Look at the peaks and valleys.  Look at the upward trend since before you were born.  Look at the nice colors.  It tells the whole story.”

Anyway, about the 70’s.  Sweetie (sorry Nita) and I had a few bucks in the market.  Back then it seemed like a fortune.  Today, it would be just enough to buy a decent wardrobe at Second Helpings, the local thrift store.  The market went down about a third.  We were nearly wiped out.  I thought “Crap, I’ll probably have to keep working til I’m 40.  Bummer.”  I got so fed up and crazed by the drop in value that I said “sell.”  At least my broker didn’t say “To who?”  Three months later the market recovered all of its loss and we were out a third of our fortune.

I always remember that experience every time the market goes into free fall.  It helps me keep my composure, my sunny outlook, my belief in the market muses who whisper in my ear  “Remember what you did in the 70’s Fred?…don’t make the same mistake.  Don’t be a loser.  After all, the charts say “Have patience, look at the pretty colors, believe in the inevitability that history will repeat itself.”

Gurus also tell us that you can’t time the market.  What they really mean is that even with supercomputers and phd’s in economics, no one can predict what the market will do in the short term.  In the current market, short term means the period of time immediately preceding my first stroke.

If you think about it, timing (aka guessing) the market is worse than predicting the results in Las Vegas.  In Las Vegas we can guarantee that, if you play for two days, you will lose.  No doubt about it.  If you play the market for two days, you will play the market for two days…that’s it, no guarantees.

But the current market is even more of a gamble.  I’ve been watching it closely and have made a number of observations.  First, never pay any attention to what the market does in the first half hour after the open.  If it goes up, you will be happy (unless you’re a short seller) for thirty minutes.  And then you can watch the gains drain away, click by click, on that disturbing little table that CNN sticks in the lower right corner of the TV screen.  Why anyone needs to see it in real time is beyond me.

Or, you can clandestinely open up Internet Explorer, click on the NY Times icon and hope to hell the numbers on the Times home page are blue, not red.  And, even if they are blue, you can feel your heart race and your forehead tighten as the blue numbers go from triple digits, to double digits, to single digits…to red.  Ah, the wonders of electricity and the Internet.

But my most important observation, and the one that you should pay me big bucks to hear, is this.  Never count on what the market will end the day at until it has officially closed and a wooden stake driven into its heart.  I’ve had my dreams of a blue-number closing dashed at the very last moment.  Like today.  Drove home, listened to NPR in the car, walked in the house, and said to Sweetie “Gee, it’s a banner day.  The market’s only down by 78 points three minutes before the closing.”  It dropped another 150 points in less time than it takes to say “Don’t count your chickens…”

I spoke with Peter, my broker, a couple of weeks ago and offered what I thought was a perfect solution to the drop your shorts before closing phenomenon.  I said “Close the market at ten minutes before 4pm.  That’ll teach em.”  Peter replied “But they’ll figure it out in a couple of days, a week at most.”  So I said “Then have an unannounced closing.  Sometimes ten minutes before the hour.  Sometimes ten minutes after the hour.”  He said he would talk to his boss.

Meanwhile, I’ll just stare at the old peaks and valleys chart and pray for peaks.

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I hate fires

Started my usual rowing routine this morning.  Turned on the TV to see how things were going with the Montecito fire.  “Funny, that doesn’t look like Montecito.  That’s Sylmar going up in flames.  Where the hell have I been?”

We lived in Northridge for nearly thirty years.  In all that time the only fire we had to watch out for was the one in the backyard barbecue.  Surrounded by houses, asphalt streets and shopping malls, I never gave a thought to evacuating our home.  A monster fire that devoured houses and everything else in its path was something that we watched on TV and said “Isn’t it awful.  Those poor people.”

Then we moved to the country.  Not the middle of Ojai.  No, we had to go eight miles away from the big city, shlep a mile up a hill and plunk ourselves down in the middle of hundreds of oak trees.  What a gorgeous place.  Until the sheriff came to our house one night and said “How many people live in this house?”  “Why”, I said.  He replied “Because I want to know how many body bags I need.”

As my neighbor Ron told me a few years ago “It’s not a question of whether we will have a fire.  It’s just when.”  Well, we’ve had several since we got here.  Not any that came right up to the house.  Just close enough to scare the shit out of us.

All the fires we’ve had the pleasure of participating in have been idiot-made.  Some doofus puts a firecracker in a mailbox and we evacuate the house.  Some ninny runs his tractor blade over a rock, makes sparks and, whoosh, up it goes.  Some jerks with heavy artillery take pot shots at an old auto and thousands of firefighters spend weeks putting out the flames.

I’ve got an industrial strength hundred foot long fire hose on a reel in our front yard.  We’ve got three tanks with fifteen thousand gallons of water that we can pour through it.  And then we’re done.  Adios, muchachos.

Our house is sprinklered.  No, not to save the house.  To save us.  The same fifteen thousand gallons pours out of the ceiling, we grab a bag of clothes, the computer backup, our wet asses, and run like hell.

We’ve been through lots of earthquakes including the one in Northridge that threw me out of bed.  They are nasty, awful things.  The aftershocks are, in some ways, even worse than the first jolt.  But, most of the time they’re sort of like a surprise party, without the gifts.  No warning.  Boom, it happens, and then it’s over.

Not fires.  Fires tease you.  You wake up to hear there’s one in Sylmar.  You don’t say “Sylmar, why that’s way over by the 5.  No way will it ever get here.”  Instead you calculate how many miles away Sylmar is.  You listen to Fireman Frank tell you which way the wind is blowing and at what speed.  You see the TV picture on Channel 5 that shows how many freeways the fire has jumped.  You Google a map of the fire…several times. You figure out how many hours till dark, when the Super Scoopers will stop laying down a barrage of water.  And you wait to see what happens.  In the dark, at night.

Now those “poor people” are us.

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Faint heart never won…

Sweetie and I went to Tom’s today.  It was time for her haircut and for me to bring the OVLFF deposit to the bank.  I have the enviable job of collecting the receipts from the Library Foundation bookstore and the contribution box in the library.  The plastic box has been a faithful collector of the coin of the realm from good-hearted souls who think we should actually have a place where people can get free books, use computers and relax without being confronted by the pressures of the day.  People are odd, aren’t they?

When Sweetie was done and looking more beautiful than ever, we got back in the car and started the drive up the hill.  We turned on NPR.  I don’t understand why automakers insist on embedding that silly antenna in the car’s windshield instead of the good old whip antenna that is so attractive to young vandals.  The windshield solution is only good if I’m parked inside the radio station building.  It is seriously challenged going up the Dennison Grade.

We heard Henry Paulson say that he had determined that using the $700 billion bailout for the purpose originally intended was no longer in vogue.  He said he had a different solution that would be much better at reducing my blood pressure, relieving my stress level and increasing my sexual potency.  I wondered if Sweetie could handle it.

My initial reaction was “Gee, that sounds reasonable.”  But that was immediately followed by “I bet the stock market will think he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”  The market went down by 400 points.  As my good friend Tony said a week ago when I mentioned the market crash…”Which one?”

Paulson’s comments were followed by NPR’s discussion with an economic guru about what has become the question of the moment.  Because of the economic turmoil (a kind euphemism for what has become a debilitating recession), should Obama take it easy in the first days of his presidency, catch his breath and go slow.  Or should he go balls out, damn the torpedoes, and do the things he promised us.

I thought about the Iraq war.  How much time did President What’s His Name and Congress spend debating it?  About the same amount of time I take to decide on my menu selection at Sea Fresh.  Yes, it’s true that it turned out to be not so good an idea.

So let’s see.  What needs to be done?  Health care reform is a very good thing.  Investing in renewable energy will end our dependence on the sheiks.  Putting folks back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure will put money in their pockets.  Ending that dumb war will save some bucks and help mend our fences with the rest of the world.  Getting rich folks to contribute a bit more is a nice idea.

Obama has a mandate from the people.  The people want him to do more than be cautious, deliberate, and glacial.  It took eight years to bring us to where we are today.  We don’t have eight years to put us back together again.  Ronald Reagan got a smaller percentage of the popular vote in 1980 than Obama did.  And the great actor said “Full speed ahead…to where I’m not sure but it’s better than dicking around where we’re at.”  Or something like that.

Yes, I know that Obama needs to reach across the aisle.  But, frankly, the Republicans are ready to grab a lifeline from anyone who throws it.  So, go Bama, do it now.  Don’t wait.  He who hesitates.  No guts, no glory.  A chance like this shouldn’t be wasted.  Carpe diem.  I’m with you.

You can even have some of the coins from the library collection box.

One man, one vote…sort of

When we lived in Northridge in 1978, California voters, fed up with escalating property taxes based on the market value of their homes, passed Proposition 13.  A bonanza for us taxpayers!  Property taxes fell by almost sixty percent and Howard Jarvis was nominated for sainthood.

Daughter Nancy forevermore blamed Mr. Jarvis and those who voted for the proposition, which included nearly everyone, for most of the evils in the State of California.  In particular, she bemoaned the deteriorating condition of the schools and the quality of education received by her and her schoolmates.

Sweetie and I joined her in her agony but, when she wasn’t looking, we rejoiced in our new-found wealth derived from lower taxes.  In the future, we surely thought, the world would make a mid-course correction and all would be well.  Nancy would be happy once again.  But not too soon, we hoped.

One of the other gifts that Prop 13 bestowed was the requirement of a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates, including income taxes.  It also required a two-thirds vote majority for local governments wishing to raise special taxes.  Seemed only fair.  After all, who could trust politicians to know when taxes should be raised?  Make the bastards think twice.  Surely, worthy items would receive needed funds.  The public could be relied upon to do the right thing.

If you think about it, you quickly realize that a two-thirds positive vote means that it takes two yes votes to equal one no vote.  Or, put another way, one guy who thinks the schools have more money than they need can overcome two guys whose kids don’t have enough books, supplies and teachers.

It doesn’t matter whether the state is in the crapper.  Eight or ten billion in the hole and counting.  But who’s counting?  The legislature, dominated by not quite two-thirds Democrats, was unable to raise taxes without getting even one Republican vote.  It adjourned after making a few bookkeeping adjustments.  Now it’s about to come back and try to figure out how to stem the flow of blood.  Governor Terminator suggests a cent and half increase in the sales tax, the most regressive sort of tax.  Oh, and since the schools eat up forty percent of the state budget, let’s drain it some more.  Jimmy can go skateboarding.

Last week the Ojai Valley tried to pass Measure P, a parcel tax to augment school funding.  Eighty-nine bucks per parcel per year.  A fortune.  Must be equal to nearly one decent meal for four people at Azu or Feast Bistro…maybe only for three people at Suzanne’s.  A couple of years ago we tried the same thing at the $150 level.  It got whomped.  This time we even let the old folks off the hook.  Regardless of whether many of them have most of the money in this Valley, they could opt out of the tax.

As I drove around Ojai, I saw professionally lettered Yes on Parcel Tax signs, Save Our Schools signs, and What, Are You Crazy, It’s Only $89 signs.  I saw one little, scrawled sign at the corner of 33 and Baldwin Road that said Vote No on Parcel Tax, The Kids Can Eat Cake…or something like that.

Sure enough, like death and taxes, Measure P was on the short end of the stick.  Seven thousand eight hundred and eighty four people voted.  Yes votes were 65.5% of the total.  For those who may have diminished mathematical skills, the Yes folks needed about 66.7%.  To put it another way, about ninety people couldn’t be convinced to vote Yes instead of No.  About half the number of people at the Ojai Playhouse on a Sunday afternoon.  The scrawny sign painter had won.

So, Nancy, your time hasn’t come yet.  Howard Jarvis is still a saint.  And you still need to have bake sales so Morey can get a good education.  Right now he’s getting less than two-thirds of what he deserves.

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I still cry

I was rowing this morning.  Not at Casitas…I’m not that much of an adventurer.  I have a rowing machine.

My usual program calls for turning on the TV, switching to KTLA to hear about the weather, then when the local newsfolks get too cutsie I click to CNN.  That’s the routine for weekdays.  But today was Sunday.  I got up later than usual, just in time for Meet the Press with Tom Brokaw.  I like Tom.  Didn’t care much for his book The Greatest Generation but he’s a nice, unoffensive sort who, if I was a girl, would bring home to meet mom.  I miss Tim Russert.  He died much too young, before he could cheer for what’s happened.

Valerie Jarrett, a member of the Obama transition team was Tom’s first guest.  A Chicago insider with lots of smarts, Valerie did well by emphasizing the team’s deliberate approach to filling out the Obama cabinet.  She was still glowing in the wake of victory.  She seemed so fresh, so full of the future.  Nothing to hide.  After eight years of hiding the truth,  I was enjoying myself.  I found my eyes moistening.  That’s a real pain in the ass when you’re rowing.  I’ve only got two hands.

I do that a lot as I get older.  Good tears, mostly.  The opera does it to me.  Kind words.  Some memories.  I could probably work myself up enough to bawl over a good meal.  I figure it must be because I’m getting older.  I react more easily, both positively and negatively, to minor events.  My older brother Irv does that too.  Maybe it’s genetic.

It usually feels good to cry.  I think it puts me in touch with myself.  Do other animals cry?  Chimpanzees, elephants, dogs, and bears can shed tears.  But no one can find any scientific studies that link animal tears to their emotions.  What is it about us that gives us this unique trait?  Unless you’re an actor, crying is real.

Tom’s next guests were Mel Martinez the Republican senator from Florida and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the house majority whip.  When Tim Russert had two guys from the opposing parties, the discussion usually boiled down to “my way or the highway.”  Listening to these two was a breath of fresh air.  Could it be that they were actually going to agree on what this country needs?  Could they really be singing from the same songsheet?  Their fifteen minutes of fame ended and they raced to shake hands.  They had big smiles for each other.  Would it last out the month?

I smiled and my eyes were still wet.

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